Rap Lyrics as Evidence

Rap lyrics, despite their sometimes gritty realism, are works of fiction. As the New Jersey Supreme Court has noted, we don’t presume that Bob Marley actually shot a sheriff or that Edgar Allan Poe buried someone under his floorboards. That fact, however, isn't enough to stop prosecutors from treating graphic rap lyrics as admissions of wrongdoing in criminal cases.

In a criminal case against Kasim Gibson, who performs as “K Gibbs,” the Philadelphia District Attorney sought to introduce K Gibbs rap lyrics about selling cocaine as evidence that Gibson engaged in the conduct he rapped about. The ACLU-PA filed amicus briefs in the trial and appellate courts arguing that treating the lyrics as confession, rather than art, would violate both the First Amendment and the rules of evidence, and “chill” freedom of speech by casting criminal suspicion on countless aspiring rap artists. Both the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Superior Court sided with the ACLU, denying the DA’s request to use the videos or lyrics. On March 16, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to hear the DA’s appeal.

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